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Romney’s revenge: Trump is now relying on the rival he once snubbed

OGDEN, UT - FEBRUARY 16: Candidate for senate Mitt Romney tours Gibson's Green Acres Dairy on February 16, 2018 in Ogden, Utah. Mr. Romney is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah, currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who announced his retirement after the current term expires. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Romney has never been one of Trump’s favourite people, until now, says BONNIE GREER.

The state of Utah has several things about it that might be considered ‘trippy’, at least to other Americans. The state can even blindside you.

Back in 1977, after the death penalty was upheld by the US Supreme Court, the first person to be executed in almost 10 years was one Gary Gilmore. A career criminal with a history of violence, he ended up murdering two men during robberies: One in Provo and the other in Orem. Both in Utah.

Gilmore, a guy with a record that would have got him medical treatment in the UK, was arrested and sent to trial. The jury heard the evidence and returned a verdict of guilty, which set off the appeal process.

Marches, protest songs, much praying and storming of courthouses all over the land happened in an attempt to stop the execution. To not take the US back to state killing.

But after a time, Gilmore informed everyone that he wanted all that to stop, that he wanted to go anyway. He was dispatched by one of the two Utah methods of execution: Firing squad. The other is hanging.

Gilmore became a legend after his reported next-to-last words were “Let’s do it”. Blindsiding the campaigners. The religious people.

Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for his The Executioner’s Song, a paean to Gilmore, and Utah once more went into legend.

But it has always been in legend. And a kind of ‘otherness’.

The state is part of the glorious Monument Valley, which it shares with Arizona. Monument Valley was the muse of the master, John Ford, and the setting for most of his Westerns. This includes the film director’s best and arguably the greatest Western of all time: The Searchers.

Whether this masterpiece is set in the Utah part or the Arizona part of Monument Valley, the area was as one for Ford. And it is, too, for the indigenous people who call themselves Diné or Naabeehó. We Anglophones call them “Navaho”, the anglicised version of their name in Spanish, Navajo. Monument Valley belongs to them.

For classic film buffs, Utah and its kind of ‘out there’ ambiance was codified by Stanley Kubrick. In the final sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, called Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, shots of Monument Valley as a kind of extra-terrestrial landscape can be seen. Of course, this includes Arizona, but odds are if most folks are asked in the US whether that starscape is Arizona or Utah, they will say the latter. Because Utah is different.

One of the big reasons for this difference is the preponderance of adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS Church, better known as Mormons.

They account for more than 60% of Utah’s population. The state is the centre of Mormon cultural influence and North America has more Mormons than any other continent. Among them is Mitt Romney, a Michigan-born, former Mormon missionary, business tycoon, presidential candidate, governor of Massachusetts and now junior senator from Utah. A Republican, of course, because Utah reliably votes red.

Except that Utah folks did not care much for the party’s 2016 candidate for president, another business tycoon. By the name of Donald J. Trump of New York City. While they gave Trump 515,231 votes (46% of the total) – and all of its six electoral college votes – compared to just 310,676 (or 27%), they also gave Trump the lowest percentage for any Republican since George H. W. Bush lost the presidency in 1992. Plus, a third candidate ran and took almost 22% of the vote.

For Republicans, this is not good. Add to this that their junior senator, Romney – in reality, a ‘carpetbagger’ who has moved his residence to the state in order to run for the senate last autumn – has never been one of Trump’s favourite people. Until now.

For desperate times call for desperate measures, and with a senate trial
looming in the near distance after a very probable vote for impeachment in the House before that, the 45th president needs all the help he can get. And that includes Romney.

The pair are long-time rivals and polar opposites. While both the sons of much-adored fathers, Romney has been married to the same woman for decades while Trump is on his third marriage. Both have made millions, though while Romney – when running for the White House – had to answer to accusations that his business career saw him involved in buying and selling companies and destroying American jobs, investigators are still trying to get to the bottom of the Trump empire.

Romney has called his rival out for asking the fledgling president of Ukraine to do him a favour in relation to the president’s political rival, Joe Biden, the Democrat candidate that Trump fears most in next year’s election. After all, the people who voted for Trump in 2016 voted for Biden twice in 2008 and 2012 (against Romney) as running mate of Barack Obama. Biden knows Trump’s base because he himself is Trump’s base and Trump knows this. Romney knows this too,

Trump has called Romney a “pompous ass” and a “fake Republican”, a threat to the party itself. He also called him a “loser”. But after his election, in 2016, the two met for a much-publicised dinner at Trump Tower where they both looked all smiles. Everyone knew that the meeting was a ‘sizing up’ for the job of secretary of state.

Trump went ahead and nominated Rex Tillerson anyway, so the meal could be seen as another Trumpian way of flexing power, and kicking a despised rival to the kerb. Now, the tables have turned. Trump needs Romney. In a big way. Because including so-called special elections in Arizona, to fill the vacancy created by the death of John McCain in 2018, and in Georgia following the resignation of Johnny Isakson at the end of this year, the Republicans are defending 23 seats in elections next year, among them senate majority leader and Trump stooge, Mitch McConnell. The Democrats are defending 12 seats. Democrats need to keep all of their seats plus pick up three to gain the majority. This is a formidable task, but not impossible. Alarm bells are ringing for the Republicans in the suburbs, where the demographic known as ‘white suburban woman’ is not happy. The suburbs delivered the governor’s chair in ruby red Kentucky to the Democrats earlier this month.

Also earlier this month, Romney was dining again with Trump, with the pair sharing lunch at the White House, as the president seeks to keep his Republican critics on board. Romney – who has described Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son as “wrong and appalling” – said it was a “delightful” meeting. He also said that in preparation for an impeachment trial he will study the law and the constitution and “keep an open mind”. No doubt he will consult with his beloved family and with Utah as to what is best to do. But he really does not have to consult deeply. Trump does not make Mormons happy. And what could be more wonderful for Romney than to blindside Trump?

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